Lightroom Blues

You want accurate or pleasing?

Sometimes you won’t get both. I shoot a lot of performing arts under gelled stage lighting: Color temperatures of the lighting is mostly in the 3000K range, but color gels and moving heads add a different light to the mix. Of course the colors are there for a reason: the band or light tech liked them to have that color. However, our camera has a lot harder time in spanning across the region of possible colors then our eyes do.
Some stage colors are hard to photograph. Most people think red stagelighting is hard but usually, in my experience, purple and blue can be equally hard, if not harder to fix. These sometimes lead to very weird transitions or colors “blocking up”.
While Lightroom 3 is markedly better then Lightroom 2 in some aspects, it still has a few issues. An unfixed adjustment brush bug for one, and, at least at default settings, “the Lightroom Blues” for another.

This article is about the blues

Not the color, but the feeling you get once you open certain images in Lightroom.
One of the first problems is the default DNG profile that LR uses: Adobe Standard.
While quite a bit better then the older “ACR” default, it still sucks has it’s drawbacks for this kind of shooting. As can be seen in the first two images in a previous blogpost There are more blogposts floating around on the internet, and the main problems are in the transitions, as can be seen in this excellent writeup by Todd Owen Young comparing Lightroom 3 to Nikon Capture NX-2. However there’s a bit more to it in some cases, at least with Canon Raw files.


The color this time. Or Purple. Or a mix of the two.
Why I came up with the term “Lightroom Blues” is simple: This is what happens sometimes if you use the ACR4.4 profile on a Canon Raw file with “somewhat” blueish lighting:
And no, this is not the cliping warning. It’s what the file would actually look like if exported out of Lightroom at these settings.

Marike Jager, ACR4.4 profile.
Read the rest of this entry »

Lightroom local adjustment bug, and workaround

The bug

This is not a new bug: In fact, it was already present in Lightroom 2. However, since it’s still unfixed in LR 3.5 I decided to put it on the blog anyway. Surprisingly few users know about the bug, so it might help someone.
If you are using the Local Adjustment Brush or Gradient tool in Lightroom 2 or 3 with any kind of exposure correction (even a negative value!), you might be in for a surprise: No matter where you brush, highlights will clip in the entire image.


Here’s an image, straight out of the camera, Adobe defaults applied, except that I’ve set “Camera Neutral” as DNG profile. Note that parts of his temple are not quite blown.

Image using Adobe Defaults

Here’s the image after I applied a local adjustment of -0.32 exposure (Default “Burn” setting in LR3) to the lower left corner: Entire temple area blows out big time.

Local Exposure Adjustment blows out highlights.
Read the rest of this entry »

“Hacking” Grain settings into ACR and more


While most people in this digital age seem overly concerned with noise, and mainly want noise reduction, I tend to like grain: It can really improve a digital image, and even make it appear sharper. Until now I had to simulate it using Photoshop for instance.

No longer: Recently, Adobe released ACR 6.1 and LightRoom 3. In these there was a new option added: “Grain”, with three controls: “Amount”, “Size” and “Roughness”. It produced some pretty nice “film like” grain. Way better then a simple “add noise” in Photoshop for instance.
That could be a time saver and simplify the workflow quite a bit.
Of course, I’d need to upgrade to LR3 for this feature. But, along with the mayor improvements in IQ due to the new demosaicing and processing algorithms (Process Version 2010) that would be totally worth it to me. Some of the other new features would be the icing on the cake.

One problem

I’d need a new Mac to run it: LightRoom 3 and PSCS5 only run on an Intel Mac, not on my Dual G5 PPC.
Since buying a new Mac just for this is a bit over the top, I decided to see what my options were.

A while back, Adobe updated the previous versions of ACR and LR to ACR 5.7 and LR 2.7: These versions also support the demosaic algorithm from Lightroom 3.
From what I’d read on the web, these should render the file as seen in Lightroom3, but not allow you to make changes to the new Develop settings, like “Grain”.

A bit more researching led (as often) to the excellent site of Victoria Bampton, AKA. Lightroom Queen. She had a bit more detailed info: ACR 5.7 should use the same Demosaic, and match the new additions closely. She also mentioned “5.7 can read LR’s settings but there’s no UI to change the new settings.” Sadly, LR2.7 will ignore the new LR3 settings. (Why Adobe, why?)

Then I got an idea when answering a question on POTN. Would it be possible to “hack” an .XMP file to only adjust the Grain settings?

The answer? It is!

Read the rest of this entry »

Pixels per inch for web

What is the significance?

Simply put? Nothing.
Well, if that were all I had to say on the subject, this would have to be my shortest blogpost ever… Okay, a bit more info then:
A lot of first time DSLR users are concerned that their shiny new camera delivers files that are “only” 72dpi, while their old point and shoot delivered 300dpi files. Why is this concern unwarranted? Surely 300 is more then 72, and more is better, right?


The old wisdom saying is that “300dpi is for printing and 72dpi is for screen”.
There are a few things wrong with that.
First and foremost, the term “dpi” stands for dots per inch. In a digital file there are no dots, only pixels. So the correct term is pixels per inch (ppi).
Also, 72ppi originated as it was the resolution of an ancient Mac monitor. Current monitors have a much higher pixel density: My old 12″ PowerbookG4 for instance has a screen resolution of about 100ppi. Most current screens are somewhere between 80 and 120ppi.
Read the rest of this entry »

Photoshop CS4 Color Settings

Once, and for all

Never thought I’d blog about something as individual as PS Color Settings… Then again, there is so much conflicting, incomplete or downright inaccurate info on the web, I thought it might be time to set the record straight.


First of: Like more things in photography life there is no “Magic Bullet”. If that’s what you are looking for, better get used to this idea: You need a basic understanding of Color Management.
On the bright side: The settings in the Color Settings dialog box affect a number of things. However, unless done totally wrong, how your images are displayed is not one of those things.

Settings nobody should use

There is no “Magic Bullet”, but there is a “one size fits no-one”: The setting called “Monitor Color”.
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Canon DPP or Adobe Lightroom?

Or: Why I shoot Raw

I shoot a lot of Performing Arts. That often involves “difficult” lighting: Different light sources, with different color temperatures. And to make matters worse, they are fitted with colored gels most of the time.
While I mostly try to go for “pleasing color”, rather then “neutral skintone” (the lighting was done a specific color for a reason I think), this still poses some challenges every now and then.

Simply setting ‘tungsten’ white balance is an okay starting point, but with certain types or colors of lighting, I need to do quite a bit of tweaking to get the image where I want it.

For that reason, I choose to shoot Raw: Gives me the most flexibility, and allows me to change whitebalance without causing too much harm.

Raw converters

Most of the time, I use Lightroom 2 for editing these images: I prefer the workflow over using the combination of DPP and Photoshop: I can do local edits on the Raw file in LR, and I can save the DNG with all edits included. With DPP/PS, I have to save a layered psd file of each image (which might be about 100Mb or so. With hundreds of images, that eats up HDD space rather fast).
This might not make sense to everybody, but makes sense to me.

DPP offers better noise reduction and sharpening in my opinion, but most of the time LightRoom is good enough for the intended purpose (images for the web).

Sometimes not

Occasionally however, I come across an image that simply will not give decent results in LightRoom. Blue gelled lights often give problems: For one: No way to reduce noise without obliterating all detail on the process. A while back I processed one of those images.
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Tethered shooting with a Canon camera

Why should you?

If you are shooting portraits or architecture, it can be very useful to be able to view the images on a larger screen then that on the back of your camera: You can better judge focus, expression, exposure and composition for instance. Not only because the screen is bigger and of better quality (not to mention calibrated!), but also because the software you use might have some visual aids (clipping warning, grid, 100% view, stuff like that)

What do you need

Obviously a camera and the proper cable: USB for most consumer models and the Eos 1D(s)3, Firewire for the Canon 1D(2) and 1D(s)Mk2(n).
Apart from that, you’ll need some software to connect the camera to the computer and some kind of viewer or raw converter.

The software

There are a few options: Capture One Pro is highly regarded, and does all in one package, but the price is fairly steep.
Then there’s Bibble Pro. Quite a bit cheaper and supports more (older) cameras then C1Pro. Both of these support Nikon and Canon. Bibble also supports other brands. Both are available for Windows and OSX, Bibble also for Linux. Neither allow remote control of the camera, but Capture one allows you to fire the shutter remotely.


Lucky for us that Canon also offers a free solution: Eos Utility. It came on the disk with your camera. If it didn’t, or you lost the disk, you can download it, following the instructions here.
Once installed, you’ll also need a viewer. I prefer to use DPP on my laptop, since that’s a dinosaur an old Powerbook G4 with a 12″ screen. Others prefer to use Lightroom. I’ll explain how to use both:
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Black and White

What do humans see?

The human eye is most sensitive for yellow-green light. Take a look at the next gradient for instance:
Color gradient image

To me, indeed the green-to-yellow part looks brightest. Not so to Photoshop however.

About a hundred ways to loose the color

Well, maybe not thàt much, but quite a few anyhow. The easiest way (but offering zero control) would be to go through Image > Mode > Grayscale. That’ll give you this:
Gradient image converted to grayscale

Your image just became 1/3 of the original size, and that weight loss is caused because there’s now only a ‘gray’ channel instead of a red, green and blue one.
Big drawback of this method, is that it’s destructive: You indeed loose the color: It’s gone for good. Since you also have zero control, I’d never use this method.


So, we want something that’s reversible. Lots of ways to do that, using (adjustment) layers, but not all of them good… Let’s start off by naming just about the worst way imaginable: Desaturate. What this does, is that it removes all color information from an image, without the option for any user intervention. While that may or may not be important to you, this should be: All colors are treated as if they were equal.
While equality is a great thing, in this case, it isn’t, since to us different colors aren’t equal. Read the rest of this entry »

Sharpening in Lightroom 2

How does it work?

Lightroom 2 has two kinds of sharpening: Capture sharpening and output sharpening. Capture sharpening is used to neutralize the blurring caused by the Anti Aliasing filter in your camera.
Output sharpening is dependent on output (print or screen, what size) and meant to overcome the softening caused by resizing or happening when printing.


Output sharpening in Lightroom is simple: You get 4 options when you export the image: Off, low, standard or high. All else is taken care of by Lightroom. Ease of use for sure. Drawback is that you cannot preview it, so you’ll need to experiment a bit. After that, it’s “set and forget”.
Capture sharpening on the other hand, requires a bit more user interaction. The settings will depend on camera used, subject and personal preference. You can preview it, but only at 100% or higher magnification. So you either need to zoom in, or you can view sharpening in the microscopic small “preview window” Lightroom 2 has for this purpose.
(There is off course the workaround I mentioned in an earlier blog post)

The “Detail” Tab

…in Lightroom is where it’s at: You get 4 sliders for sharpening: Amount, Radius, Detail and Masking.
Some of these are quite self-explanatory if you know a bit about digital imaging, the others might be new to you. Read the rest of this entry »

Clipping Warnings in Lightroom

And why they deceive you

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, like many other Raw converters, has a clipping warning.
The purpose of it is to give you a visual warning (apart from the histogram) of what parts of an image might be clipping.

What is clipping?

A pixel is clipping when it reaches a value of 0 or 255 in one or more channels, and “should have gone further”. Since it cannot go lower then 0 or go higher then 255, it remains at those values: Detail is lost if one or two color channels clip, part of the image is solid black or white if all 3 channels clip.

The effect of color space

As with anything in digital imaging, the color space used has a big influence: A wide gamut color space (such as ProPhotoRGB) will have lower values for the same color then for instance sRGB. So a color that is clipping in sRGB, need not be clipping in ProPhotoRGB! Read the rest of this entry »

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